On Monday, Paul Krugman wrote Franklin Delano Obama, a column in which he argued that the new President should:
...learn from F.D.R.’s failures as well as from his achievements: the truth is that the New Deal wasn’t as successful in the short run as it was in the long run. And the reason for F.D.R.’s limited short-run success, which almost undid his whole program, was the fact that his economic policies were too cautious.
Today, Friday, he's at it again in a column in which he says we're in a period when "virtue becomes vice, caution is risky and prudence is folly."
To pull us out of this downward spiral, the federal government will have to provide economic stimulus in the form of higher spending and greater aid to those in distress — and the stimulus plan won’t come soon enough or be strong enough unless politicians and economic officials are able to transcend several conventional prejudices.
One of these prejudices is the fear of red ink. In normal times, it’s good to worry about the budget deficit — and fiscal responsibility is a virtue we’ll need to relearn as soon as this crisis is past. When depression economics prevails, however, this virtue becomes a vice. F.D.R.’s premature attempt to balance the budget in 1937 almost destroyed the New Deal. ...
All indications are that the new administration will offer a major stimulus package. My own back-of-the-envelope calculations say that the package should be huge, on the order of $600 billion.
So the question becomes, will the Obama people dare to propose something on that scale?
Being daring is good advice for the President-Elect on a lot of fronts. One thing FDR did was become the chief legislator during the famous Hundred Days. He didn't wait for the Senate or House leadership to wrangle the members and produce some legislation. Instead, he sent 15 pieces of legislation crafted by his "Brain Trust" up to Capitol Hill for approval. As Jonathan Alter wrote in The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, Congress didn't so much as pass that daring legislation as salute it as it went by.
It's doubtful that Obama will be greeted with quite the same attitude despite his much-touted bipartisan approach. Having been a Senator and not a governor, he may not even believe that it's wise for the President to produce legislation in such a manner. But being daring rather than cautious may be the least risky way for him to achieve his ends.